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Philips SHB9850NC review: Wireless noise-cancelling headphones at a bargain price

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
110
inc VAT

A good price for a pair of headphones this stuffed with features and they sound pretty good, too

Pros 
Active noise cancelling
Bluetooth with aptX and AAC
Light and comfortable
Cons 
All plastic headband
Over-sensitive touch controls
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If you can recall the name of the Philips SHB9850NC headphones five minutes after first clapping eyes on them, then you’re a better man than I. But despite the fact that the name is utterly forgettable, the product itself stands out – and for all the right reasons.

The Philips SHB9850NC (say it to yourself enough times and you might just remember) costs only £110, yet they boast a level of specification normally on offer in headphones costing much, much more.

The key to these headphones’ success is the inclusion of both Bluetooth connectivity and active noise cancellation (ANC). At this sort of money, the competition, at least from the big-name manufacturers, is slim. There’s Sony’s MDR-ZX770BN, which will set you back £100, and that’s about it.

Every other headphone offering both wireless and ANC I’ve tested will set you back at least £150. In that sense, the Philips is a no-brainer for those on a tight budget looking for convenient, noise-cancelling headphones.

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Philips SHB9850NC review: Design and features

The good news is that the design doesn’t feel as cheap as you might expect. Yes, the adjustable headband is made of plastic, and yes, that means it’ll likely snap if you sit on them by accident. However, in most other respects, the SHB9850NC are well-designed.

What I like about them best is that they’re lightweight and very comfortable. The soft earcups cradle your ears snugly but don’t feel too tight, yet they feel secure on your head and don’t feel like they’ll slide off at the slightest provocation.

There’s no pouch or case included, which is a disappointment, but they fold up into a neat, compact package. You can listen to them with or without noise cancelling enabled by pressing a small button on the left cup and, when the battery dies (Philips quotes 16 hours of music playback per charge), a 3.5mm jack on the right ear cup lets you carry on listening via cable.

Elsewhere, aptX and AAC support round off the specifications nicely. There’s even NFC pairing built into the left cup and touch-sensitive controls on the surface of the right, although the latter aren’t very well implemented. Unfortunately, the touch controls are too sensitive and trigger easily when removing the headphones and adjusting them for comfort.

Philips SHB9850NC review: Sound quality

Generally, though, once you realise what’s going on, this is an easy problem to work around, and the sound quality and noise cancelling are decent as well.

For this sort of money, you’re never going to match Bose’s superb QuietComfort 35, but I rather like the SHB9850NC. The overall presentation is warm, cosy and laid-back – a sound that goes easy on the treble and big on the bass. It’s soft, like a memory-foam mattress, not hard and unforgiving like a futon.

Inevitably, some won’t get on with this sort of style, but it suits most content just fine and the headphones sound particularly good with radio and podcast output.

As for the noise cancelling, that’s reasonably effective, but not brilliant. Put on the headphones and enable ANC, and you can hear the SHB9850NC hiss gently, plus the noise cancelling isn’t the most effective. It takes the edge off background noise, but it doesn’t deaden it like the very best ANC headphones do. Having said that, every little helps, and some cancellation is definitely better than none at all.

Philips SHB9850NC review: Verdict

Overall, then, I’m a big fan of the Philips SHB9850NC. They’re stuffed with features, they’re very comfortable, and they fold up nice and small.

Sound quality can’t match the best wired headphones at this price, and the noise cancelling takes the edge off the background noise rather than completely deadening it, but for the price, these cans are a very good buy indeed.